As Asian Cup participants enter their final week of preparations, some teams have resorted to extreme and unusual methods to protect their strategy heading into the group stages.
The most reclusive of participants, North Korea, chose to hold their pre-Asian Cup camp in Hainan, China before departing for Australia. The 2012 AFC Challenge Cup winners are the only participants who declined to set up camp in the host country during the lead up to the tournament. Their most recent official action came in November’s 2015 East Asian Cup qualifiers, when they beat Hong Kong and Guam before drawing with Chinese Taipei.
Fellow Group B participants China took unusual precautions in their Saturday warm-up against Oman. According to a Twitter post by Scott McIntyre of Australia’s SBS, Alain Perrin’s men swapped shirts before the game in an attempt to prevent opposition scouts from tracking individual players. The East Asian side won 4-1 in a rough-and-tumble affair that saw three Oman players exit the game through injury.
Meanwhile, a scheduled friendly between UAE and Kuwait was abruptly cancelled on Saturday as players waited in the tunnels ahead of their entrance.
According to Emirati newspaper The National, the UAE balked at Kuwait’s insistence that they be allowed to film the closed-door affair, fearing that the tape could fall into the hands of Group C opponents Qatar.
While West Asian and Central Asian participants have held a number of friendlies with each other in the last month, defending champions Japan have chosen to avoid warm-up games with national sides and will instead play Club World Cup participants Auckland City as well as local New South Wales side Lambton Jaffas.
Hosts Australia, whose most recent result was a 2-1 loss to Japan in November, have chosen to not play any warm-up matches in the remaining days before the tournament, with coach Ange Postecoglou preferring the team focuses on training before big games. Fans will see whether his strategy is successful when the Socceroos host Kuwait for the tournament’s January 9 opener in Melbourne.